(- Past master

Generally ranked among the greatest living French film actors, Michel Piccoli’s latest performance is as the painter in J acque Rivette’s absorbing four hour masterpiece La Belle Noiseuse. Trevor Johnston meets the man who has worked with just about everyone who’s anyone in European movies.

Chabrol, Godard, Melville, Malle. Hitchcock, Resnais. Tavernier, Rivette and. ofcourse. Bunuel. Always Bunuel.‘

Prompted to name some of the filmmakers who’ve impressed him most, actor Michel Piccoli’s curriculum vitae is so well-filled, the answer sounds like he‘s selecting a first eleven of directorial greats. Having defected to Hollywood on only one occasion. in 1969 for Hitchcock’s decidedly so-so spy thriller Topaz, the Frenchman has become one of the great faces of the European screen, an incredibly prolific and inestimably reliable performer whose always elegant air of glacial hauteur seems to have been ever-present on the arthouse scene for the last twenty years or so; most recently, for instance, as the dominating pater-familias in Louis Malle’s Milou In May.

A stage actor for years before he first ventured in front of the cameras as far back as 1947, when he was in his early twenties - Piccoli remains best known outside of France for the very same films

, that made him notdrious in his home country.

Ineffably and suavely middle-class himself, he made a major name for himself in the string of late Luis Bunuel films that set out to cock a surrealist snook at the complacent values of the French bourgeoisie in classics like the gastronomic shaggy dog story The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and the unsettlineg bizarre The Phantom of Liberty. Later he produced and starred in


La Belle ttoiseuse: ‘as rewarding asthe initial prospect is daunting'

Themroc, an excessive tale of social disintegration, once shown on Channel 4 as part of the legendary Red Triangle series of adult attractions.

Surprisingly enough, prior to La Belle Noiseuse, he‘d never worked with Jacques Rivette, a director whose lengthy filmic meditations on the nature of performance and identity have often attracted more plaudits from theorists and critics than they have admiration from the wider public. Such, however, is Rivette‘s enviably cerebral reputation in France that it was a collaboration Piccoli was eager to undertake. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year‘s Cannes Film Festival, even at an elephantine 240 minutes, the film makes for hypnotic viewing.

Piccoli’s famous artist, Edouard Frenhofer, is roused from a long-term creative torpor by the arrival of the attractive Marianne (Emmanuelle

Beart, best known for the Pagnol adaptation Manon des Sources), who becomes the model for the first nude he has painted in many years. This affects Frenhofer’s relationship with his wife (and erstwhile model) Jane Birkin and her ties with her lover (and sometime painter) David Burzstein.

With the hands of artist Bernard Dufour providing the accumulating brush-strokes which offer the audience an unprecendented insight into an artwork-in-progress, hardy-bottomed viewers will be engrossed by both the chafing battle of wills between Piccoli and his initially recalcitrant subject and the in-depth examination of the everyday power games indulged in by the various partners. The final result is as rewarding as the initial prospect is daunting, so it‘s certainly worth sticking with the full version instead ofchickcning out and going for the rather less revelatory two hour Divertimento version due in Scotland later in the year.

What’s perhaps most extraordinary about an extraordinary film is the way in which Piccoli seems to truly become Frenhofer before your very eyes. As the line between character and performer seems to subside you realise you‘re watching screen acting of the very highest accomplishment; but, characteristic of this urbane and extremely charming man, Piccoli is modesty itself in accounting for the craft that achieves it. ‘A lot of it is to do with the way Rivette works,‘ he explains. ‘You shoot for a long time, but eventually you’re not aware that you‘re making a film at all. We started with a very vague outline, and every night he’d write the next day’s pages to develop on what we’d already done the previous day. He’s so unobtrusive about all the technical aspects, we had the feeling of play while we were on set although it was demanding.

‘For me, a lot of it comes from watching people, a gesture here and an expression there. I just put my costume on and I‘m ready. I‘m not a great adherent of the so-called Method like a lot of American actors. De Niro is magnificent, of course, but he doesn‘t seem to be enjoying himself. Myself, I like to play. I‘m the marionette and I pull the strings myself.‘

La Belle Noiseuse opens at the Glasgow Film

Theatre on Sunday 17 May.


Eccentric German auteur Percy Adlon created an unlikely arthouse star In the ample term at Marianne Sagebrecht with Bagdad Cate and Rosalie Goes Shopping. His latest muse is none otherthan androgynous new country crooner k.d. Iang, whose shuttling, uncomiortable presence in this tall tale , et oddball triendshlp eventually works very much in the illm’s tavour. Lang plays the enigmatic Kotzebus, an Alaskan oilworker who pitches up at emigre Berliner Boswltba’s mobile ; library in the hope at uncovering information about her background. ! Although the older woman is initially hostile, the orphan's plight touches a

nerve, iorcing herto lace up to her own past (her husband was shot as the couple escaped overthe Wall together) and stop hiding away alone, devoting ' all her spare time to bottling more and more jars ot irult— indigenous Alaskan

saimonberrles, hence the title. Eventually these two lost souls cross

; the Atlantic back to the German capital to square up to Reswitha’s tragic

history and reach a tongue-tied

i understanding oi the bond that has brought them closertegether. The

, long-anticipated emotional conirentatlon between them is staged in an elliptical series oi brlei vignettes, j which brilliantly evoke the swaying i

pendulum ot atiectien and desire that characterises their relationship. They also mark the magical moment when the tllm at last achieves the tusion ot heightened visual styllsatlon and tender human insight that is Adlon at his best.

it’s a slewbumer all right, but with its charactertul periermances, swoonworthy soundtrack and hauntingly pictured northern landscapes, Salmonberrles turns into the kind oi treasurable movie experience that stays with you long alter the linal credits roll. (Trevor Johnston)


The List 8—21 May 199225